Countless millions were spent in the past year or so by the various political players on polling voters. One very rough estimate has the Bush folks and the Republican National Committee spending about $4 million on surveys, voter data and such. The Kerry crowd and the Democratic National Committee say they spent $6.2 million on research services and polling. Separately, the liberal America Coming Together spent $2.6 million.

There is a better, more accurate and far, far cheaper way to find out what voters think and who's going to win the election. Simply ask John D. Giorgis, an economist with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics who nailed the electoral vote right on the money: 286 for President Bush.

Giorgis's entry on Oct. 22 at 10:43 a.m. was the first in of the three Loop Fans who guessed the right number for Bush. A day later, Mac Salfen, a retired macrobiologist from Arlington, Tex., sent in the precise tally, and Patricia Totten, a freelance writer and photographer from Dunkirk, Md., sent her entry on Oct. 27.

In all, about 700 entries were received from this area and nationwide as well as from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia. Virtually all, save a few from French-speaking areas, predicted a close or even tie contest. Entrants broke more than 2 to 1 for John F. Kerry.

Five entrants were one off on the high side at 287 electoral votes. They were, in order of entry: Courtney Nobile, a publicity assistant in New York; Caleb Henry, a Seattle professor; Susan Renier, a Cincinnati tax specialist; Glen Cooney, a Washington Lobbyist; and a fifth Loop Fan who hasn't checked in.

Six entrants were one off on the low side, at 285: Washington communications guru Nicholas Thimmesch II; Rocheport, Mo., law student Kameron Murphy; Reno, Nev., minister and contractor Louis Jackson; Millersville, Md., police officer Jeff Mires; Silver Spring retiree Bob Fustero; and one entrant who hasn't checked in.

Four Loop Fans were two off on the low side, and one was off two on the high side: Kyle Rogers, an engineering manager from Santa Barbara, Calif.; J. Boling, an educator from Richland, Ga.; retired Department of Agriculture employee Don Downing, a winner in the 2000 contest, from Darnestown, Md.; and retired Maritime Administration employee Mike McMorrow from Arlington. Firefighter Thomas Cunningham from Essex, Md., guessed Bush would win 288 votes.

And, stunningly, the 2000 presidential contest winner, Wayne T. Curtin of Milwaukee, who reminded us to have this contest, won again, being the first in with an entry three off Bush's total.

Congratulations to the winners, and thanks to all for playing. Think how many schools could have been built or improved with all that polling money.

North Korea, Iran Given Pentagon Codes

We recently got a "directive-type memorandum" from Stephen A. Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, with new instructions on sharing classified information.

"Sharing information at all levels of classification and control is more important now than ever," he said in the memo, which he shared as well with all senior Pentagon officials. "In support of homeland security and coalition warfare we have an increased need to share data with our foreign partners."

So if you decide stuff is releasable to "foreign nationals, international organizations or multinational forces," he said, we have to keep track of what's being released in a "secure electronic environment." To do that, mark the info as "Releasable to USA" and follow it with a three-letter country code or a four-letter code for organizations, such as NATO.

Cambone attached a most optimistic code directory. Unclear, for example, what we could ever release to PRK -- the lunatic-run North Korea -- or to IRN -- our pals in Tehran.

How to Tell the Boss He's All Wet

The crowd at the Agriculture Department's Natural Resources Conservation Service carnival fundraiser waited eagerly Monday as the Alaskan grizzly approached the dunking booth. He bought a ball for $2 and threw it.

A hit would have sent Agriculture Undersecretary Mark E. Rey, a booster of the timber folks, into the pool. But the grizzly missed.

Rather than try again, the bear, aka Michael Degnan, an intern at the Alaska Wilderness League, opted for the $20 automatic dunk button, and into the drink went Rey as the crowd cheered.

As Rey climbed out and the bear began to waddle off, the undersecretary was heard to observe: "Bear hunting season is next week."

The carnival netted several thousand dollars and many employee pledges for the Combined Federal Campaign. Rey, dunked a dozen or so times, may have been come in second to NCRS chief Bruce Knight, a source said, "because a lot of his employees wanted a shot at him."

Agriculture Undersecretary Mark E. Rey plays pool to raise funds for the Combined Federal Campaign.